This is a guest post by Lee Woodruff. Woodruff is a contributing home and family editor for ABC's Good Morning America. Her first novel will be published summer 2012. Lee and her family make their home in Westchester County, NY.
"Mrs. Woodruff, what girl is ever going to go home with me from a bar?" He looked up at me with a lopsided grin that said he was partially joking but also dead serious. His voice was devoid of self pity.
I glanced at his thick reddish blonde hair, wide smile, his incredibly muscled shoulders and then my eyes strayed to his legs, or where his legs should have been. Darren was a private in the US Army, who'd been hit by a car bomb in Fallujah. He is a 24 year-old double amputee.
In these wild oats years, when he should have been kicking up his heels in every honky tonk bar in his native Tennessee, Darren had spent more than a year in a VA Hospital recovering from the physical and emotional injuries of war. Like so many veterans, real recovery is an ongoing journey. This is what life looks like, interrupted, but undeterred.
He'd been in middle school when Bin Laden and his band of terrorists slammed into the World Trade Centers and the Pentagon. It had made an impression as a boy. And when he was old enough, he told me, he'd signed up because he was an American and it was the right thing to do. Darren wanted some action. He wanted to defend his country from terrorists. He had assessed the danger, but the bad thing always happens to someone else.
There is never any "why me" from guys like Darren, no palpable self-pity. "This isn't a disability," one marine I met said to me, dancing in his wheel chair and popping a wheelie - "this is just a different way to get around."
It's entirely possible that you've never run across a guy like Darren. Many of our service members live in and return to small towns and rural areas. They hail from the Midwest and points south, from Texas and New England. For those of us who make our livings in cities, it might not immediately occur to us that the man with the service dog on the sidewalk is an Iraq war vet or the mother with the prosthetic arm in Wal-Mart served two tours. These are proud and humble people, mostly self-deprecating in that envious way that makes you wish you had a little more of that.
The people I've met don't see themselves as heroes. They were just doing their job, they'll tell you. And their job was protecting us. Just ask the Navy Seals who took out Bin Laden or the medic who was able to put two tourniquets on his guys before he attended to his own blown off leg. This job is not for the faint of heart. And that job benefits you whether you feel it or not. Someone has to protect the castle. Someone has to pull the night watchman's shift.
This Vetrans Day, I hope you have a chance to gather with family and friends and think about someone like Darren. Someone young and proud and very brave is on a foreign base or in a military vehicle in the desert, wearing far too much gear for a place so hot. They are there because their country asked them to go and they stood up and raised their hands.
There are no politics here, no labels. This isn't about being for or against these wars. And it's not about being pro-military, hawk or dove, donkey or elephant.
This is about the fact that no matter what complaints we have about our country, no matter what we'd like to change or improve, every single one of us should take pride in being American. The same kind of resonant pride that bloomed after September 11th. Sure, there is corruption and abuse of power; there are pork barrel politics, racism and extremism. But we are a complex nation. We fought for the right to be independent, and we founded a nation on the principal that all were welcome, free from persecution and tyranny and we've done the best we could with the times we had. As a country we are continually a work in progress. We are a perfectly imperfect vast land of disparate, differing folks braided together. We are fallible, but ever hopeful, ever striving.
This Veterans Day, take a moment to think about the more than 360,000 veterans who have returned home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with some kind of a brain injury alone. That doesn't count the amputees or the fallen. Behind each one of these statistics are individuals and families whose lives are forever changed, irretrievably different because of their service.
And when our countrymen come home wounded, different or broken-it's up to the rest of us, the people like you and me who didn't make a sacrifice, to take care of them.
That's just simply what people of a great nation do.
With their best selling book, "In an Instant," Bob and Lee Woodruff garnered critical acclaim for their compelling and humorous chronicles of their family's journey to recovery following Bob's roadside bomb injury in Iraq. Bob and Lee have founded the Bob Woodruff Foundation to assist wounded service members and their families receive the long term care that they need. Woodruff's bestselling second book, "Perfectly Imperfect" gives a personal glimpse into her life as a wife, mother, sister, daughter and friend. You can follow Lee Woodruff on Twitter at @LeeMWoodruff
More great articles and info for Veterans and the people who love them:
- The Past is Now: Preserving Memories and Honoring Veterans
- The Good and Bad of Veterans Day: Freebies, Discounts and Fraud
- This November, AARP's Driver Safety Program Salutes the Military